Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia speaks during a Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club meeting in Maywood on Thursday. | Michael Romain/VFP
Friday, January 6, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (7th) was in Maywood on Jan. 5 to speak at a regular meeting of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club, which was held at Meal of the Day Café, 1701 S. 1st Ave.
Garcia, who finished second in a Feb. 24, 2015 runoff against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — an election that propelled him into the national spotlight as a leader of progressive politics in America — spoke about his life and political career before explaining the potential benefits of the newly formed Cook County Commission on Social Innovation.
The new commission, which Garcia chairs, was created last April and charged with devising strategies to “to create economic development activities in areas of Cook County that haven’t seen investment and growth in economic activity in several decades,” Garcia said.
The commission, Garcia added, is particularly focused on workforce development and job-training activities that work in tandem with efforts to reform the county’s criminal justice system and reduce the population of the Cook County Jail.
“There are too many people there who shouldn’t be locked up,” Garcia said. “They’re there because of mental health issues and substance abuse issues. They should not be incarcerated. We ought to have a more robust system of pretrial services as they do in Washington, D.C., for example.”
Garcia said that, in places like Washington, D.C., people aren’t held in jail because of a lack of money.
“You hold people in jail because they’re a threat, not because they don’t have money,” he said. “You hold them if they’re a threat to the community, their families or themselves — not because they’re poor.”
Garcia said that, currently, there’s a “lawsuit pending in Cook County that looks at this issue,” and that could be the beginning of comprehensive reform to the county’s bail bond system.
Garcia also argued for more public-private cooperation in distressed communities as a source of economic revitalization.
State Farm agent Ernesto Martinez, the president emeritus of the Melrose Park Chamber of Commerce, reinforced the commissioner’s emphasis on public-private partnerships.
“It’s important, for instance, to have money available for businesses so they can get new equipment and redevelop their storefronts and so on. We saw that in Melrose Park about five years ago. There was a TIF established so that all our businesses could get new awnings that look the same.”
Garcia said that the commission is looking for community members across Cook County to pitch in and give “us ideas about how we can bring economic development activity to the most depressed areas of Cook County.”
Garcia added that, in addition to the new commission, the county board’s Business and Economic Development Committee, which he chairs, also has a role to play in developing job opportunities for people in distressed areas. That committee, Garcia said, facilitates tax breaks for firms in Cook County, and for those seeking to locate in the county.
“We want to see those firms hire people in the local communities,” he said. “We want to bring to them people who are qualified and ready to work so we can have a more prosperous economy and society.”
For more information on the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation, click here. VFP